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Commentary: New supercomputers cheaper, more available

Gartner's Dataquest projects that supercomputers will be a $4 billion market in 2001.

    By Jim Cassell, Gartner Analyst

    Supercomputers were originally developed for highly computing-intensive tasks like predicting weather and developing atomic bombs. They were cutting-edge technology meant for a limited, mostly government-sponsored, group of customers.

    See news story:
    Genetics company buys mammoth IBM supercomputer
    Those days are gone. Although it is much more complex, the massively parallel architecture (5,000 CPUs) seen in NuTec Science's IBM supercomputer is now powerful enough to address problems once thought to be unsolvable, such as mapping the human genome. In addition, by using "commodity" technologies such as IBM's Power RISC or Compaq Computer's Alpha, or even Intel PCs, supercomputers are much more affordable.

    This, in turn, means the market can be made a profitable one, since a cheaper product means more customers can afford it. Gartner's Dataquest projects that supercomputers will be a $4 billion market in 2001.

    Processors are only part of the story, however. In the life-sciences field, for example, as scientists move beyond mapping basic DNA to analysis of DNA-based protein development, and more computing power is needed, huge amounts of storage are also required, presenting further market opportunities for astute vendors.

    Aided by supercomputers, advances in the life-sciences arena present a tremendous opportunity to develop new drugs that can not only improve the quality of life but can also enable pharmaceuticals manufacturers to make serious money. New drugs can be modeled in the computer rather than in test tubes and laboratory animals, thereby improving safety and reducing time to market.

    That's why vendors such as IBM and Compaq are seriously focusing on massively parallel technologies, developing chips with a thousand times more processing power and storage devices and data management software that can store and manage a thousand times the data of today's machines. Their investments will supply the technology required for a new, expanded and profitable market.

    (For related commentary on technology export restrictions, see TechRepublic.com--free registration required.)

    Entire contents, Copyright ? 2000 Gartner Group, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.